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Woodlands settlement deadline is extended

Residents of infamous institution now have until Sept. 2013 to file claims

The Supreme Court of British Columbia is giving former Woodlands' residents more time to submit claims for the abuse they suffered at the school.

Chief Justice Robert J. Bauman has extended the claim deadline in the Woodlands class action settlement for an additional year. Former residents of the school now have until Sept. 19, 2013 to file claims.

Klein Lyons, the law firm representing hundreds of former Woodlands' residents in a class action suit, states the judge's reasoning is that the "claims process is much more complicated and time consuming than the parties apparently considered in the negotiation and finalization of the settlement agreement."

The Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia states that the Supreme Court of B.C. previously extended the initial Sept. 19, 2011 claim deadline until Sept. 19, 2012.

Survivors of the New Westminster facility, which operated as Woodlands School from 1950 to 1996, filed a class-action lawsuit in 2002.

The provincial government later agreed to a compensation package for Woodlands survivors, but the courts excluded residents who had suffered abuse before Aug. 1, 1974 when the Crown Proceedings Act took effect.

The provincial government agreed to settle with Woodlands survivors for between $3,000 and $150,000, depending on the level of abuse each person suffered. Former residents and advocates have called for compensation for all victims of abuse at Woodlands School.

According to Klein Lyons, two independent investigations confirmed wide-spread physical and sexual abuse of Woodlands residents.

David Klein, whose firm has been retained by more than 800 members of the class action, said the province has taken a "scorched earth approach" in its response to the survivors' claims.

"Only nine claims have been decided by the court-appointed adjudicators in the almost two years that the settlement has operated," he stated in a press release. "I would be surprised if the province isn't spending more money paying an army of lawyers and experts to fight these claims than it would cost to provide meaningful compensation to the survivors."

Many former Woodlands residents gathered at the site in October 2011 to watch the demolition of the Centre Block tower. The battle for compensation for all victims of abuse who lived at Woodlands was a reoccurring theme at the demolition ceremony.

"The oldest, most fragile Woodlands survivors who left the institution prior to Aug. 1, 1974 continue to be left out in the cold," Klein said in the press release. "While the province was not legally required to compensate residents for abuse prior to 1974, the cutoff date is a morally arbitrary decision."

Klein said the province could make compensation available to all Woodlands residents if it wanted to. He believes there are fewer than 500 pre-1974 survivors who are still alive.

Bill McArthur, a former Woodlands resident and an advocate for compensation for all residents who suffered abuse at Woodlands, said the only way residents will have closure is by being compensated in a fair and timely manner.

"I am very happy that the building is coming down," he said at the tower block demolition ceremony. "I am sad, at the same time, that the Woodlands' survivors are still being abused by this government even as we are talking. They are still not compensating the abuses that we suffered."

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